The Leeside Legends series: Mary O'Leary was a camogie scoring machine

The Leeside Legends series: Mary O'Leary was a camogie scoring machine
Cork forward Mary O'Leary beating Dublin defenders Shiela Wallace and Catherine Doherty during the 1978 All-Ireland senior camogie final at Croke Park. 

WHEN people debate the most prolific scoring machine in the history of camogie the name of Mary O’Leary will immediately come into the conversation.

Mary, the sister of the former Cork hurling star Seanie O’Leary, was born in 1955 and began playing with Glanworth.

Honours were not plentiful with Glanworth but they did manage to win the U18 Junior championship in 1972.

A move to Watergrasshill did not improve matters on the trophy front but Mary looked back on her years with Glanworth and Watergrasshill with fond memories.

“We did not win a lot, but I had a great time at both clubs and as we all know it’s always great to win trophies but my attitude to any sport is to enjoy it because in my book competing is the most important issue,” said Mary.

Mary began playing with her county in 1971 as she helped the Rebels win the Munster U18 title.

Two years later it was All-Ireland number two this time with the Cork Junior team that defeated Galway in the final.

Mary had to wait until 1975 to get a call-up to the Senior panel but it was a tough baptism as Cork were defeated by Wexford in the final.

It took another three years for Mary to get another chance of winning her first senior All-Ireland winners medal as Cork produced a sterling performance to overcome Dublin in the decider.

It was the Dubs again in the 1980 All-Ireland final and what a cracking final it proved to be.

At the end of normal time the teams couldn’t be separated with the final score standing at 2-7 to 3-4 and Mary gave an incredible individual performance when she amassed 2-4 out of Cork’s 2-7 tally.

“I suppose I would always be among the top scorers in any game because I was the free taker.

“Looking back, I enjoyed that particular game because it was so fast and so close and I guess that a draw was a fair result at the end of the day,” added Mary.

Cork were further pushed to the limit in the replay but once again the outstanding O’Leary saw her play a major role as the Rebels came up trumps to win by a solitary point.

The 1981 final against Kilkenny was rated one of the best finals in years and with Cork looking destined for victory they were denied in the closing seconds as Kilkenny levelled with a late equalising point.

Extra-time proved fatal for Cork and they lost out by the minimum with Mary pinpointing lack of concentration for Cork’s defeat.

“It was hugely disappointing as we went so close to winning in normal time but dropping our concentration cost us dearly and to get pipped in extra time was hugely disappointing.”

The Dubs were back in 1982 and they felt confident of getting one over on Cork to make up for the 1980 defeat with Cork gaining revenge over Kilkenny in the semi-final that gave them a little consolation for their 1981 defeat.

Another dynamic performance by Mary ensured she claimed her third senior All-Ireland medal as she contributed a total of 1-6 of Cork’s 2-7 tally.

Picture: Ref 221/62
Picture: Ref 221/62

Another victory over Dublin in 1983 saw O’Leary notch her fourth and final Senior All-Ireland medal.

Mary has also one notable achievement in the 1981 All-Ireland senior ladies football as she helped Watergrasshill win the title when they defeated Galway Gaels.

In the same year, O’Leary was awarded the camogie ‘Player of the Year’ an award that will always be cherished by the former Cork star.

Mary O’Leary can look back on her career with pride and many happy memories but firmly believes the game had changed quite a bit from the era she played.

“The 12-a-side that I played in is so much different to the present 15-a side game.

“The one negative thing about the sport of camogie is that counties like Dublin and Wexford are no longer a force and that is sad.

“At the moment Cork, Kilkenny and Galway seemed to be in a league of their own and that cannot be good for the game.”

Mary O’Leary is still a huge camogie and GAA fan and to the present day gets a lot of satisfaction from watching modern-day games.

She will always be remembered as one of the best scoring machines the sport camogie has ever seen.

FACTFILE: 

  • Mary O’Leary began playing camogie with Glanworth at underage level before moving to Watergrasshill;
  • She is the holder of four Senior All- Ireland medals with Cork as she also won Junior All-Ireland in 1973 when the Rebels defeated Galway;
  • Mary scored a total of 2-4 out of a final tally of 2-7 in the 1980 Senior All-Ireland final that ended in stalemate 2-7 to 3-4;
  • She won an All-Ireland Ladies Football medal with Watergrasshill in 1981 when the Cork side defeated Galway Gaels.
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